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Autumn Carnival Cakes

I have wanted to make Frittelle di Carnevale, or at least to eat them again, ever since a brisk bright February morning in Venice nearly 30 years ago.

Having taken the overnight train from Aix-en-Provence to Padua to spend February half-term with an Italian friend, I found myself sitting in a café down a tiny lane off St Mark’s Square, drinking strong coffee and eating these exquisite custardy fritters.

It was one of those heavenly food moments that you always hope you’ll be able to recreate. So I still remember my distress was only part-jest when Silvia informed me these were not available outside Carnival season. It seemed criminal that this kind of pleasure should be withheld from the people of Italy and their faithful visitors during the remaining 11 months of the year.

I’m happy to say I’ve made it back to Italy a number of times since then, but sadly never to Venice, and not during Carnevale. But I have not forgotten the frittelle. How could I? So, a few years ago, I downloaded a recipe.

There were just a couple of problems. Firstly, there was a mystery quantity-less key ingredient and I didn’t feel confident enough to wing it; but secondly and more importantly, it wasn’t February! Could I imagine making them at the wrong time of year when the Italians so obediently held back?

I couldn’t, so I pinned the recipe onto my notice board in preparation for when February came…and then promptly forgot until Carnival season was over. ‘Next year then’, I promised myself. But I forgot again. I began to resign myself to it never happening.

However, as I did a seasonal cull on my out of control notice board a month or so back, I saw the recipe and, in a rare act of anti-establishment rebellion, decided to make February-Venice-Carnival-cakes in October!

I know! I didn’t think I had it in me either (#powertothebakers).

I found a new recipe ( and nervously looking over my shoulder in case the Italian Carnival Cake police were onto me, I began to mix the batter.

This is a lovely recipe by a born and bred Italian and I will always be grateful to her for enabling me to recreate foodie bliss. The only problem was that although it listed ingredients for the custard filling, the promised link to a method never materialised. Not to worry. I guessed it would be pretty standard crème pat. However, I do wonder, if I had been able to find her version, it might have said ‘Only joking about the three tablespoons of cornflour!' Luckily I managed to rescue it from its cement-like consistency by whisking in extra double cream (because it wasn’t quite high cholesterol enough before).

So while I may have to eat salad for the next year to detox, these were delicious and took me back to that clear winter sunlit day in Venice, wandering over bridges and along canals.

All of which makes me wonder why had I worried so much about waiting to make them in February? Was it so terrible to make them in October? Of course not. Sometimes you have to throw tradition aside and just do what you need to do (is ‘need’ is the right word for making custardy fritters? I’m going to say it is!).

The truth is, no one really cares if I make carnival cakes in October (except my family who were actually rather grateful). And while this is obviously a frivolous example, it reminds me of all the other things I worry about getting wrong, doing at the wrong time or in the wrong way, that actually no one cares about either.

Clearly making fritters at the ‘wrong’ time of year wasn’t going to change the world for the worse, but so often I’ve listened to a throwaway comment about something more serious, an opinion on the right or wrong way to do something, and have unconsciously filed it away, sticking to someone else's rules and pinning my own longed for plans onto the procrastination notice board of my life.

The truth is, sometimes we need to listen to tradition and rules. But other times, and particularly when there’s custard crème fritters involved, we just need to follow our hearts.


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